6 Truths of Self-Pity and the Dangers of Victim Thinking

When does compassion for people become the enabling of victim thinking?

Here’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed: Some people who love the QBQ! book’s message of Personal Accountabilityand refuse to suffer from victim thinking themselveswill support other people’s tendency to play the victim. Even though they agree with this statement:

When I play the victim, I serve no one—not even myself.

Why some go out of their way to paint certain groups of people as victims—seeking to create a “fairer and more just world,” they’d say—is beyond me. PLEASE don’t get me wrong, we should desire to serve those who are less fortunate, but …

We’ve all seen politicians strive to convince people they are victims just to get their vote. It’s called “pandering” and it adds no value to our world. Can we agree whether we’re on the political Left or the political Right that victim thinking is not a healthy way to live?

A Mission’s Mission

As a member of the board of directors of the Denver Rescue Mission (DRM)—an organization serving the homeless since 1892—I’m pretty close to the topic of being “down and out.”

To expand on our opening question regarding the line between compassion and enabling, I turned to the CEO of DRM, Brad Meuli. I asked Brad why this venerable institution exists. In his words —

“We rescue men and women from poverty, addiction, job loss, medical issues, and from lifestyles that, quite frankly, they do not want or desire. They come to us because they know they need help. We’re an open door where they can get a meal, a bed, clothing—and a lift up out of their situation to become productive, self-sufficient citizens once again. We offer them what they lack: hope. Our goal is to see lives changed, often from ones of addiction to contributing citizens.”

Note that Brad’s statement is loaded with compassion while also providing a worthy objective: Helping people stand on their own, living lives of personal accountability.

Now that adds value to our world.

Blame Is Not The Answer

Brad’s team does not judge people, they serve people. But they also do not coddle, enable, or adopt people to the point of supporting self-pity. The DRM does not encourage its clientele to be victims who blame:

  • The employer who let them go.
  • The spouse who kicked them out.
  • The privileged who took advantage of them.
  • The family members who turned their backs on them.
  • The society that didn’t provide enough “safety nets” for them.

Isn’t it true that to help people get back on their feet and make a better life for themselves and their family, we should help them not play the victim?

Victim thinking and self-pity have never served anyone. They only prevent individuals and groups from moving forward, becoming self-sufficient, and succeeding in life. 

6 Truths About Self-pity

As I thought more about this message, these truths related to self-pity came to me.

Self Pity ...

  1. Is not productive.
  2. Adds no value.
  3. Prevents learning.
  4. Destroys joy.
  5. Solves no problems.
  6. Serves no one.

Isn’t it simply flat-out wrong to help others choose the path of self-pity? Wouldn’t it be best to not only keep victim thinking out of our lives but also encourage others to avoid victim thinking as well?

I believe it would be. Do you?

Let me close with my opening question while inviting you to comment!

When does compassion for people become the enabling of victim thinking?


13 Responses

  1. Great post John. I wanted to say that victim thinking is so easy for ALL OF US but as I re-read QBQ! for over 10 years now it becomes more like a muscle that prevents you from sinking into the full pity party. I encourage my kids never to say “It’s not fair” as that’s an easy out for them to blame someone else.

    I do some work with the United Way as well as coordinating a weekly dinner for the community at our church. The words that we use a lot is that people need a hand-up, not a hand-out. When people start thinking of hand-outs that’s when it becomes an enabler for victim thinking.

  2. Thanks for a truly thought-provoking Conversation Starter for our leaders, John!

    My take: Compassion becomes an enabler of victim thinking when we either ignore what Dr. Covey referred to as The Essence of Effectiveness (getting the results we want today in such a way that we can achieve even greater results in the future), or when we forget that sometimes just giving a man a fish or even teaching a man to fish is not enough!

  3. John, An excellent post–well done. Another aspect to your post is having confidence in other people. That is, if we recognize that somebody is struggling, we can be understanding of their plight, but at the same time we can have confidence that they, with a little help, have the stamina, motivation, and drive to improve their situation. A direct way of saying this is, I have confidence in your ability to overcome your issue(s). That is a whole lot different than sending the message that we see them as a hopeless victim that cannot meet their challenges and they must always have help to get by.

  4. Hello John,
    Great thought provoker. I believe enough in your methodology that I don’t see any excuses for victimhood in anyone and it has become an automatic trigger for me, much like Wayne’s comment about the kids saying, “It’s not fair”. But you do point out a great example with politicians. My theory is that one way compassion enables victim thinking is when that compassion is masquerading as an attempt to garner favor and is not truly compassion at all. Your story from Brad relates that his organization offers a hand up but believes in the power of a person to change their lot. It is not sympathizing with them for an alternate agenda. Thanks for the thought!

  5. I always enjoy your blog messages John, and always find something to chew on in them. This one is particularly good! We do need to offer assistance to people who need it and what better way to help someone than get them to a point of not needing us anymore. Teach a man to fish…. 🙂

  6. Compassion never leads to the enabling of victim thinking. We are called to serve people with compassion and kindness. Victim thinking is the by-product of one who is lacking personal accountability…therefore the blame cannot be placed at the feet of those delivering compassion to others. Instead compassion should be a platform for instruction. Perhaps the next time we give someone a few bucks at the intersection of down and out and a bright future, we should also include a copy of QBQ!

  7. I have a family member who choose ‘Victim mentality’ a long time ago. Apparently to some folks the sympathy you get when playing the victim card is the positive reenforcement needed to play it again. What they don’t seem to see is that sympathy plays out and most folks see through the victim charade and walk away from the relationship.
    I put boundaries in place that worked beautifully for 5 years! Then the ‘victim’ showed up again, so I re-established boundaries but they aren’t willing to step into the play ground without their victim cape on…yet.

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